We may feel small and weak, but we are gathered together to signify the power of God who transformed death into life. That is our hope, that God is doing the impossible:  changing death to life inside each of us, and that perhaps, through our community, each one of us can be agents in the world of this transformation of brokenness into wholeness, and of death into life.    Jean Vanier

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A Sermon Preached December 5, 2010 (Year A – Advent II)

by The Rev. Lisa G. Fischbeck, Vicar

Some years ago now the Church of the Advocate embraced three core values: Compassion, Justice, and Transformation.

We have them on our signs, our bumper magnets, our website. We refer to them in our meetings and conversations, our prayers.

It seems we all have a pretty clear sense about compassion and justice part. Those are values we embrace readily. And we often speak of a desire for compassionate justice in our community and our world –

for immigrants, for people with mental illness,

for children in foster care,

for Palestinians and prisoners.

We connect that compassion, that justice, with the Way of Jesus.

But the transformation value is not so clear. If we value transformation, what or who is to be transformed? And how?

Is it society? The Church? Each of us as individuals? All of the above?

This Season of Advent, is a good time to ponder these things. By tradition, Advent is a season in which we anticipate the coming of Jesus, coming as an infant in Bethlehem, but also in the cosmos at the end of time. Coming into our world as the savior of the world, and coming into our lives over and over again, in the stillness of our prayer, in the mystery of the bread and wine, season by season, year by year.

By tradition, by the experience of Christians through the centuries, the Jesus, the Christ, whom we anticipate, changes things when he comes. Transforms them even.

Today’s readings are quite Adventen in this way. In the reading from Isaiah we hear of a time when a descendant of Jesse will come, a descendant of Jesse, which Jesus was, will come, and the internal and external world will be so changed that animals and humans that usually flee from one another in fear:

The wolf and the lamb

The cow and the bear,

The infant and the asp,

The child and the adder

Animals and humans that usually flee from one another in fear will instead rest together, dwell peacefully with one another, will be transformed. Things will not be as they have been!

And in the Gospel story, John the Baptist tells of the One who is to come, who will baptize us with the Holy Spirit and with fire, whose winnowing fork will clear the floors of our souls, holding dear to that which is good, and casting the bad into unquenchable fire.

In The Message, contemporary translation of the text, Eugene Peterson writes:

While Jesus was living in the Galilean hills,

John, called “the Baptizer,” was preaching in the desert country of Judea.

His message was simple and austere,

Like his desert surroundings:

“Change your life. God’s Kingdom is here….

I am baptizing you here in the river, turning your old life in for a kingdom life.

The real action comes next:

The main character in this drama ….

Will ignite the kingdom life within you,

a fire within you,

the Holy Spirit within you,

Changing you from the inside out.

He’s going to clean house – make a clean sweep of your lives.

He’ll place everything true in it’s proper place before God;

Everything false he’ll put out with the trash to be burned.

This translation is helpful. First because it gets us out of any confusion wrought by the metaphors of wheat and chaff, and second, because it describes how the change, the transformation, will come when we encounter Christ:

It will be from the inside out.

He is going to change you from the inside out.

And that which is truly true will be cherished

And that which is false, will be cast out.

The transformation we speak of, works from the inside out. Whether we are talking of the transformation of our selves, or the transformation of the Church, or the transformation of the world. It happens from the inside out.

And it separates those false behaviors and ideas within us that would harm us and deceive us from those parts of our selves that are life-giving and true.

It works from the inside out. And it happens when we engage with Jesus, the Christ.

How does that sound to you? Interesting? Crazy? Scary? Desirable?

Is the transformation that comes from Christ something you want for yourself? For the church? For the world? For yourself?

I know, I said “for yourself” twice.

Because really we cannot work for, advocate for, the transformative power of God in Christ in the church and in the world, until we have realized the need for it in ourselves.

Through transformation, our way of being, our way of perceiving ourselves and others, will be different. And so, therefore, will our way of acting and interacting in the world in which we live. We will be more patient, more thoughtful. We will be more bold and true. We will be better stewards of our lives, our words, our time, our resources. And we will love God and one another more fully.

So the first question I want to ask you this morning/evening is:

Do you really desire to be transformed?

If you do, then here’s the kick: Aside from the fact that such transformation means change from the inside out, which is frightening enough,

It also requires willingness, an openness, maybe even work. Sure it is possible to have a single, sudden, radical conversion experience, brought on by forces outside of our selves, and be forever changed. I’ve heard of it, and I believe it can happen.

But for most of us, transformation comes over time. liturgy by liturgy, stillness by stillness, thought and prayer by thought and prayer, meditating on the psalms and the teachings of Jesus. Preparing our hearts, our souls, to encounter the Christ.

Make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Clear the debris, the layers, the patterns, the kudzu. Confront the falsehoods, embrace the truths, that the winnowing fork can do its deed.

So the second question I want us to ask our selves this day is this:

Are you willing to open your self to the transformative power of God?

If so, then the third question for this day, this season, is this:

What does that willingness look like?

Now, that may certainly be enough for one day, for one season:

Do you really desire to be transformed? Transformed from the inside out?

If so, are you really willing to open your self to that transformative power of God?

If so, what does that willingness look like?


The main character in this drama ….

Will ignite the kingdom life within you,

a fire within you,

the Holy Spirit within you,

Changing you from the inside out.

He’s going to clean house – make a clean sweep of your lives.

He’ll place everything true in it’s proper place before God;

Everything false he’ll put out with the trash to be burned.

Amen